liverpool news

Sports minister Burnham accepts ''major injustice''

April 16, 2009

Sports minister Andy Burnham insists the Government do accept there has been a ''major injustice'' 20 years after the Hillsborough tragedy.

Everton fan Burnham, the MP for Leigh, was forced to halt his speech at yesterday's 20th anniversary memorial service at Anfield for the 96 fans who died at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

Liverpool fans chanted ''justice for the 96'' for a full two minutes before Burnham was able to continue.

The service was attended by 28,000 people, and was part-religious service, part-protest rally, part-pop concert, with Gerry Marsden signing 'You'll never walk alone' at the end.

It was a remarkable day, seen on TV across the world, and Liverpool fans took full advantage of the exposure. They demonstrated their anger that nobody in public office has ever been convicted of any offence following the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, the scene of the country's worst ever sporting disaster.

Burnham, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, felt the full force of that anger. Afterwards he gave some hope more information could soon be published to held the justice campaign being run by the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

Burnham said: ''Twenty years on, the arguments are coming into clearer perspective. All the arguments in the early days about the fans have gone and the country can see clearly now that there has been a major injustice.

''It was a difficult judgment leading up to the service, I felt very emotional myself and I was worried about speaking but I think it was the right thing to do.

''Ever since the tragedy there have been setbacks and difficulties the families have had to face. I have followed them myself, I know all about them.''

And he added: ''I have been saying all the way leading up to this emotional milestone that there are unresolved issues, I understand that. I didn't come for plaudits, I came to represent the Government, as I had been asked to do.

''There has been a sense of frustration that the country did not recognise the strength of feeling on Merseyside. I am from this area, I have always understood the feeling.

''I have never wanted to hold out false hopes but at the same time I do believe strongly that people should have access to the full facts and I am not yet certain that they do.''

Burnham continued: ''Together with Maria Eagle, the local (Garston) MP, we have called for full disclosure of any further documents that have not been put in the public domain and are held by any public body.

''Hopefully, that is a small step that might help people. My point is a simple one, that all information should now be out. There is a convention, the 30-year rule for official papers to be held for that length of time.

''But my argument to colleagues in Government is that it is inappropriate in this case. People deserve the full facts now, so I will be pursuing that with my colleagues.

''I do not want to make any false promises or raise any false hopes but obviously I have understood the reaction that was expressed today at the memorial service.

''I have always cared and thought deeply about Hillsborough and will continue to do so.

''There has been material written this week that did pick up on some of the issues and the chief constable (of South Yorkshire Police) said he would review further whether there were any documents that could be put into the public domain, and that is a very welcome statement.

''Obviously there are a further group of bodies - the ambulance service, the fire service and West Midlands Police - who had a role in the aftermath.

''All of those bodies should consider whether there are documents that can now be released.''